‘So what is the problem this book addresses?’: Interactions in academic book reviews

  • 1 Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education.
  • 2 Institute of Education, University of London.


Metadiscourse is the term used for self-reflective linguistic expressions that refer to the evolving text, to the writer, and to the imagined readers of that text. It is based on a view of writing as social engagement and in academic contexts reveals the ways writers project themselves into their discourse to signal their attitudes and commitments to matters in the text and to their disciplinary communities. This paper examines the frequencies and pragmatic purposes of metadiscourse in the relatively neglected academic genre of the book review. On the basis of a corpus of 84 reviews from three contrasting disciplines and interviews with journal editors and reviewers, we describe the ways these writers use metadiscourse to offer a credible representation of themselves and their work in different fields. The analysis shows how metadiscourse use can be seen as pragmatic strategies through which writers shape their social purposes to the formal constraints of the genre and the preferred practices of their disciplines. It therefore suggests how this genre not only draws on readers' familiarity with disciplinary knowledge of the field, but also an interpretive framework that includes appropriate social interactions.

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Text & Talk (founded as TEXT in 1981) is an internationally recognized forum for interdisciplinary research in language, discourse, and communication studies, focusing, among other things, on the situational and historical nature of text/talk production; the cognitive and sociocultural processes of language practice/action; and participant-based structures of meaning negotiation and multimodal alignment.